My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in 1917 and made it as far as eighth grade graduation before dropping out of school completely. For his generation, his education level wasn’t that bad, though it did set him up for an early life of odd jobs and scraping by to feed his young family. Early in their marriage, he and my grandmother were migrant workers, chasing ripening crops from town to town, following the harvests. My mother remembers living in a peach orchard when she was very, very young.
This photo of the mill workers reminded me of my grandfather, of being forced to drop out of school and work to eat, to live. Fortunately, the boy on the left (below) looks like he’s coping well, but many of those other young faces in the photo are looking pretty grim.
Unfortunately, this isn’t only ancient history. For far too many of our young people, their eighth grade diploma is still the last one they earn. According to this news release from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction , in the 2006-2007 school year, California had a high school graduation rate of 67.7 percent. One online Wall Street Journal article estimates that only fifty percent of all high school students graduate in four years. Yikes.
Adults without a high school diploma will earn thousands of dollars less than their graduate peers, and will struggle more in any economy. Home ownership and raising a family outside of poverty will remain only dreams for many.
Fortunately, today there are options. Students can get their GED (diploma equivilent) or go back to school through College of the Redwoods and other programs. We can also support our students. Encourage them. We can recognize that even when college is on the horizon, earning a high school diploma is a big accomplishment and will improve their lives immeasurably.